Friday, June 26, 2015

A week completed in Al Muwayh

After my return from Zalm, I have settled down in Al Muwayh and over a week later, I think it is time to take stock of where I am going with what I am doing. Ramadan started 7 days ago, and with it, we also began to work in 2 shifts - the morning one being from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and the night one from 9.30 p.m. to 12.30 p.m. There are hardly any patients in the morning shift as people are usually fast asleep after being awake the whole night. I saw either no patients or up to 2 patients each of the morning days during the entire last week. In the night shift, though, it is work as usual, and patients keep coming until the last few minutes of the duty. 

A lot of road traffic accident victims have been coming in daily. This is quite usual, as a lot of people drive to Makkah and Madina in Ramadan to gather blessings from Allah. Most of the times, the victims are non-Saudis. I witnessed the arrival in the ER of one Pakistani family with the death of an old man, his son's wife and his son's daughter on the highway itself. Only the son has survived the accident, in which he was also the driver of the car going toward Makkah. May Allah grant these poor victims of road accidents a place in Jannah. Ameen.

Four new doctors, all from Sudan, have joined our ER. They include the very smart Dr. Abdulla, an equally smart Dra. Maria, one Dr. Badreddin and one Dra. Wefag. Of these, I have had many patient-related interactions with Maria, who is a resident of KSA as her family is already based here in the Kingdom. Wefag is the newest, having joined just a few days ago, and is right now undergoing orientation. Dr. Abdulla speaks very good English, is well-informed, and appears to be as smart as our ex-Dr. Amr Hilal. Let us see how these doctors shape up in the months to come.

Apart from my work, I have been spending time downloading and watching stuff on the laptop, watching Arnab Goswami go at everyone with his rabid tongue on Times Now, and doing a bit of cooking here and there. In the past week, I made a chicken curry once, Turai and chana dal once, and today, a potato gravy. Yesterday, I made a new item from a new ingredient. This was Molokhia soup. I must say it was easy to make, and it turned out good as well. Molokhia is a type of leafy vegetable that is eaten widely in Egypt and northern Africa. It is basically from the jute plant. Belonging to the same family as the humble okra (lady fingers), it is a mucilaginous plant that is eaten best with mild spices. Usually, it is made with lamb or chicken, but I made it with just one cube of Maggi chicken flavour. I had one bowl of it yesterday for dinner, and would be eating more of it tonight, with rice. You can see a very nice video on cooking molokhia here.

That's it for now. Thanks for visiting my blog and reading this entry. You are welcome to browse previous entries and view photos from the links to other pages to the right of the blog. Feel free to comment below the entries, share my blog or specific entries with your friends on different social media (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google Plus buttons are located below each entry).

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Zalm vs. Al Muwayh

I have been asked this question by the administration in both the villages, as they have some sort of friendly rivalry between these two medical centers which are located within 50 km of each other in the vast expanse of central Saudi Arabia; I have been asked this question by the doctors and nurses in both places, who tend to weigh the benefits of each place against their disadvantages; I have been asked this question by my friends off-line and on-line: by reading my blogs, they are moved to ask me which place is better; and finally, I ask MYSELF this question each time I do a duty stint at Zalm. Which place is better?

Let me try and analyse this question: first of all, there cannot be a blanket answer. We have to consider many aspects of life before we come to any sensible conclusion. The obvious positives of living in Zalm are: lighter OPDs and admissions; stay in the hospital-provided accommodation with free meals and water all through the 24 hours; and, a cleaner, newer, better-designed hospital with an energetic administrator who is willing to spend to make the facility better (this is not just my opinion, but an opinion that resonates with many people both in Zalm and in Al Muwayh). 

On the other hand, Al Muwayh has a more lively atmosphere in the evenings; the people are familiar; my house is here, whatever be its advantages or disadvantages; I can cook my own food - a definite advantage, as I could not stomach the canteen food in Zalm that was being dished out to me every day; a hospital whose people I am friendly and comfortable with; and its proximity to Taif (Zalm is a further 50 km away from Taif, if you are looking at distances).

The disadvantages of Zalm: it is a much smaller and ill-equipped village; there is no garden or green space anywhere; no Indian restaurant serving south Indian dishes; it has a much hotter weather on a day-to-day basis throughout the year ... and not just that, it is dustier, with the hot wind swirling the desert sands all out on the roads, under the doors, inside ones' rooms and so on; the roads are not well-lit in the evenings and nights; the room rents for someone who is settling there are much higher; and the restaurants and the bank are quite far from the hospital, so that it is a lot more inconvenient.

The disadvantages of Al Muwayh: none, within the confines of what we are talking about. There are two large pharmacies, two south-Indian restaurants, four Pakistani restaurants (all on the highway, of course) and a lot of Saudi and Yemeni joints with a limited but tasty repertoire of chicken and rice.

The conclusion: Al Muwayh scores above Zalm in many respects. I would rate the living experience a lot better here than in Zalm.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

My 4th Ramadan in Saudi Arabia

A very Happy and Pious Ramadan to all my readers.

Well, things didn't go exactly according to my earlier plans, did they? I was rather hoping to exit last year, but decided to renew my contract as I did not have a clear direction for a new job or my MRCPCH at that time. Now, the time is approaching when my fourth year will also be ending ... inshallah. Ramadan has begun here today. With this, our hospital duty timings have also changed from a single duty in the day-time, to a split of morning (10 a.m. to 1 p.m.) and night (9.30 p.m. to 12.30 a.m.) ... and as I write this, I am preparing to go for my first of such night duties. 

A few things that I did after returning to Al Muwayh yesterday: I purchased some provisions and food items in preparation to start cooking my own food after a long gap. Today, I began this by making chana dal with turai (in English, that is chick-pea lentils with ridge gourd). The food came out delicious! 

I also bought a used TV set and set up my cable to re-start. I am just watching TIMES NOW after a long gap of over three months (although I did watch it sometimes when I was in India). 

I am hoping to get back my internet DSL connection into my house ... currently, it is with someone else, who used it for over 2 months while I was in India. Once this comes, I will have fast, unlimited internet back as well!

Finally, it looks as though I am returning to my old life here in KSA. There are a few restrictions, though. As I will be working alone, I will be unable to take leave and vacations in between - something that I have been doing the whole of last year with the arrival of Dr. Afzal (he left for his annual vacation a few days ago). Secondly, I have no car, as I sold mine before leaving KSA on my last emergency holiday. I have hired a car-taxi guy, a Sudanese by the name of Mr. Hasan. He will ferry me back and forth to and from the hospital every day for a princely sum of SR 300 per month. He has also agreed to offer his services for night and weekend emergency calls at no extra cost! Isn't that marvellous? Lastly, I am going to be unable to visit Taif to replenish my dwindling larder ... hence, on my last visit there a few days ago, I brought back as much as was possible so that there is no shortage of food and related items. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Back in Al Muwayh ... hopefully for good

After a lot of messaging and calls from the hospital director, the medical director and some big shots from the Muderiya, finally, in the afternoon, I received my release letter and have returned to my own place in Al Muwayh, to start my duties here from tomorrow, which also happens to be the first of Ramadan 1436. The last day in Zalm was the same as all the rest have been, except that I went around saying good-byes to all those whom I know. This includes most of the doctors, some of the nurses and a very few of the other workers in Zalm. I am going to miss some of them, but then, this is how life flows, does it not? 

After unpacking my bags, I cleaned a bit of my living room, shifted out the big ornamental chair and shifted in the metal bed that Dr. Afzal has been using until now ... I also brought in my new mattress and put it atop the older mattress that my colleague had been using, and finally, put a nice cover to prepare my bed. I hope to use it regularly from now on. I guess sleeping on the floor is going to be a thing of the past for me. 

I still need to re-arrange my internet and to bring in a small, used TV so that I can enjoy my evenings as usual. I will have to start cooking from tomorrow. In Ramadan, duties are not from morning until 4.30 p.m., but from 10 to 1 (in the mornings) and from 9.30 to 12.30 (in the later part of the night). Thus, I won't have to worry about taking a lunch box with me during Ramadan. I can return home and eat if I am not fasting.

And that is that. Thank you for your attention and for reading this brief but important entry. Happy Ramadan to all my friends, and hope to have you pray for me, as I will, for you. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

News from Al Muwayh and Zalm

As I write this, I have received the news that today and tomorrow will be my last days here in Zalm and I will be required to report for duty back in Al Muwayh by Thursday, i.e. the day after tomorrow. I had taken a day's leave yesterday, and was in Al Muwayh in my house. Yesterday morning, Dr. Tahir Mir escorted Dr. Afzal Khan and me in his car to Taif. Dr. Afzal would leave us and proceed on his vacation by Wednesday. The house that we both stay in would therefore have just one occupant once I returned to Al Muwayh to complete the last few months of my stay here in Saudi Arabia. 

Dr. Mir was so kind that he remained with me while I went about shopping at various places in Taif in preparation for my solo stay in Al Muwayh. I purchased stuff from Panda, from Baab-Al-Rhea, from the Indian market, and so on. We returned to Al Muwayh in the evening, and I returned to Zalm today morning to be told that tomorrow I would be sent back to Al Muwayh as my duties were now over here in Zalm.

So, what else? My friend Dr. Parvez, the laboratory specialist in Zalm has joined back today. My other friend in the lab, Sr. Elizabeth returned to Al Muwayh from Zalm, where she had recently joined to work for 2 weeks. I have obtained some new friends' correct names and telephone numbers, and I would endeavour to connect with them on social media. Today evening, I plan to eat out with Dr. Rahim Baloch, the Zalm ENT specialist. We hope to eat at the Punjab Restaurant, a local dhaba that serves Lahori food. 

I am indebted to Dr. Atef, who works in Zalm as a Q and PS officer cum Orthopedic specialist. Over the last four weeks, it was his help with which I managed to take one-day breaks every week to go to Al Muwayh to relax and to re-furbish my wardrobe, medicines and snack items. The reason is that his house is in Al Muwayh although he works in Zalm, and he does a daily up-and-down from Al Muwayh to Zalm and back. 

Also, I got unexpected good help from Dr. Hany, who loaned me his car to go to Al Muwayh twice. He drives an old but powerful and trouble-free Mercedes sedan, and I can thus claim that I have driven a Mercedes car! When I offered to reimburse him for petrol, he smiled and refused to take any money. May Allah bless him. He is turning 64 and is going to exit the MOH job as early as within a few months.

Today is the eve of Ramadan for the Bohra community in India, and this also marks the 25th varas of Inas, my elder daughter. I hope to be able to witness the celebration on Skype in some time from now. How quickly time has passed ... she has completed a quarter of a century on this planet!

The coming Sunday will also be Father's Day, and I am all sentimental about it, remembering my own dad, who passed away more than 2 years ago. I expect my daughters will also be remembering me and may perhaps send me some token of their love with a courier that I have asked them to send (I have requested them to send me medicines, some books and stuff like that). 

My hope is that by tomorrow evening I would be back in my home in Al Muwayh. I can then start cooking ... and enjoying my life in KSA, as I have done in the past three years, give or take a few months. 

That's it for now. Thanks for reading. Do leave your comments here ... bye!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Ups and Downs continue in this rollercoaster of rural existence

First of all, let me thank each and every one of you, dear readers, who keep visiting my blog and follow my rather dreary existence on the sands of Arabia. Even so, I keep getting positive feedback from many of you: some find my blog entertaining; some inspiring; and some, well, simply good on literary merits. Thanks again for reading my blog for whichever reason applies to you. A few Indian doctors have found the contents interesting enough when they have themselves taken baby steps to migrate to Saudi Arabia in their own lives. They have then contacted me on other media such as FB, Whatsapp, etc. to speak or chat with me and get some idea of what living in KSA is like. I certainly don't envy them! 

On the other hand, I was contacted by a gentleman who sells car from a showroom in Australia. He was being offered a job in Riyadh where he would be the manager of a car sales showroom for some of the most expensive cars in the world. When he told me his contract details, I was stunned to realise that he would earn twice as much as I am earning now as a senior doctor. So, the lesson I learned was that car salesmen were more valuable to the system here than doctors are, although they need doctors much more than car salesmen from the Australian soil here.

After some hinting/coaxing/cajoling/nudging, all direct and indirect, some of the Zalm staff have sent me food cooked by their own hand. These items have included a spicy chicken from a Hyderabadi technician, an Adobo Chicken from a Filipina nursing group and authentic Mallu Avial from - who else - a Kerala-origin nurse. She even recounted the recipe of the item upon my asking her. I feel that I will try it. The surprise in the method of making it was not really a surprise, but even so, I must share it with you. When the item is nearly done, you simply pour fresh, unheated coconut oil atop the vegetables and cook for a further 5-10 minutes before your avial is done. Isn't it interesting?

I am currently taking a MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) on Interprofessional Communication and Collaboration in Health Care from my favourite online learning site (THIS ONE). This is the last week and I have enjoyed the experience thoroughly. In a half hour from now, I would be joining some other amazing Courserians (yea, that is what we call ourselves) on a Google Hangout ... 

I watch one or two movies every day. Today, I watched the average entertainer "Dil Dhadakne Do" on my laptop. It proved to be quite commonplace except that it did send a self-improvement message to all those arrogant CEO's of rich companies. 

I have the feeling that I have less than a week remaining here in Zalm and I will be asked to return to my home village (Al Muwayh) before the end of the next week. By the time I return to Al Muwayh, my partner and co-Pediatrician Afzal Khan will have already left for his vacation to India. I will be managing the Pediatric work all by myself for the next over two months, as I see this happening from where I am just now. 

Do leave your comments below and let me know how you found today's entry.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Trying new things

I am now at Zalm for over 2 weeks. It has been a very quiet phase in my professional life, there is no doubt about that. The lack of any professional challenge is actually quite irritating, but I find that if I do other things that are creative or productive, the irritation goes away. So, yesterday was Friday. I had debated about whether I should return to Al Muwayh for the weekend, as I am off-call this week. Then, I realised that even if I went home to Al Muwayh, I would be the one to suffer, as I would have to cook food, search for other stuff and so on. So, I decided to stay put in the room in Zalm and make myself busy online. 

I am now in the process of polishing a novel that I wrote earlier ... more than a decade ago on THIS site. Having learned where to sell my e-books, I think it is a good idea to prepare yet another e-book and try and sell it on POTHI.COM, where I have also put up my Child Care book for sale.

This is an adventure story set in India and features a group of college students fighting for survival in a forest in Madhya Pradesh. I will send the link to it once it is approved and put up on the site. I plan to price it low so that more and more people are able to access it. 

The next thing I am doing is continuing my online studies. On THIS site, one can take free courses whenever they want on a wide range of topics pertaining to all disciplines. A free course is good enough for learning, but if you wish to add the study to your CV, you need to pay a small amount of between USD 39 to USD 59 to get a verified certificate for the given course. The one I am doing currently is from the University of California, San Francisco, and is on Communication between Healthcare Professionals and what impact it can have on the hospital's Healthcare statistics and performance. 

Next on the list is watching movies that I have for long downloaded on my laptop or in my external hard disc, but haven't had the chance to watch until now. In the last two days, I watched two classics from Hindi cinema - Sadak, starring Sanjay Dutt, Pooja Bhatt and Sadashiv Amrapurkar (the last one in the role of "Maharani" - a transgender owner of a prostitute den - a role which brought him the National Award that year); and Taal, starring Anil Kapoor, Aishwarya Rai, Akshay Khanna and Amrish Puri ... a musical that took the people of India by storm when it was first released. Next on my short list are other movies that are equally famous, including Aah, starring Raj Kapoor and Nargis, and a few others.

Last, but not the least, is to walk. I have begun walking about 3 days ago, and am trying to walk at least a few kilometers each evening to return myself to some semblance of fitness. Let me see how long I can sustain this activity. 

Yesterday, I received a lovely gift from one of the radiology technicians Mrs. Khairunnissa - she cooked spicy chicken and chappatis for me on my specific request which I had made the day before. I really dislike the food provided by the hospital's kitchen and I have been going around requesting Indian/Pakistani/Filipina staff to share their food preparations with me. Hope they all bring me food ... 

And on that note, I end this entry. I hope you liked it and will take some inspiration from it. Thank you.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Two down, three to go

No, this is not a description of the drinks I took today! It is the number of weeks that I have worked and will be working in Zalm. Yes, drumrolls, please. It is official: I will be spending another 2 1/2 weeks here in Zalm. It is not that Zalm is a bad hospital. In fact, there is ever so little in the form of work, that I am mostly reading/writing/sleeping/eating. Besides, the room in the hospital is fairly well-equipped and the food is free, so it all accounts for a good amount of savings in monetary terms. The hospital cleaners have to be summoned every few days to clean up the room and the corridors. But essentially, there is no stress. Internet access is all right too, as the STC signal is strong here in my room and I have purchased that company's internet card. 

So what are the negatives? Not many. The reason I am even adding this paragraph is the longing I have to be in Al Muwayh, with which I identify my own home and work. Of course, my home is just a rented place. No great shakes. I don't even have all the things that I purchased and adorned the home with. Just three suitcases of stuff that I brought back from India when I returned here 3 weeks ago, and the remaining furniture that I could not dispose off when I went to India a few months back. I have no large refrigerator, no microwave, no television, no other comforts ... but I still feel happy when I am in my old home. So yes, I do miss Al Muwayh.

There is another reason why I like Al Muwayh better than Zalm. It is the fact that Al Muwayh has become a brighter, busier small village than Zalm can hope to be ... not even in the next ten years. There are several new businesses coming up ... and the hospital, though older than the one here in Zalm, and busier, is also a more homey place. I am more at home with all the nurses and the doctors here than I am in Zalm, where I am mostly considered a "visitor". There are no Indian doctors here, and I do not know anyone outside in the village, which, by the way, is dull and not even properly illuminated at night. There is no garden in Zalm, just one open space with a lot of man-made design and furniture and a lot of children's play equipment, which lies unused because there is no grass or even false grass in this recreational space. 

As to restaurants, there are a few that are worth mentioning: there is an Indian place which serves north Indian food, and a Pakistani place that serves similar food, albeit Lahori style. A few cafetarias for sandwiches and burgers, and a few Saudi/Yemeni restaurants that serve broast and grilled chicken. That completes the restaurant scene for Zalm.

Is there anything to redeem Zalm? As I said, its hospital and its hostel are newer, better equipped and more fun to work and stay in. And that, basically, keeps me going. 

That's it for the day. Do write in and let me know your comments and share your experiences with me. Thank you.

Monday, June 01, 2015

My Zalm duty continues after a day's leave

So, I took a day's leave to return to Al Moweh and meet my room-mate and finalise all dealings with him now and for after he leaves for India. As I do not have a car, I came to Al Moweh with Dr. Atef Abdulfattah, an erstwhile dispensary doctor of Al Moweh who was recently promoted to Specialist level and transferred to Zalm.His family continues to live in Al Moweh, and he commutes daily between Al Moweh and Zalm in the morning and in the opposite direction in the evening.

I ran my washing machine to wash all the pending clothes that I brought back to me from Zalm, and later, I relaxed, doing some work on the laptop, and speaking with my family members and stuff like that. I will relax here for a full day tomorrow before returning to Zalm. Nothing else to write about, so I will end this entry here. Thanks for reading,